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  2 to 3 times a month, we feature new and inspiring stories for you to read.  We sincerely hope you enjoy reading them.
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What In The World Is Satan Doing? 

The Bible is clear that believers are at war with a spiritual enemy—Satan. Today, there is much fascination with this enemy, but often without a clear understanding of who Satan is. In a topic that can be filled with fear and confusion, this study offers some sound biblical insight on Satan’s strategies and gives practical advice on how we can defeat him. Are we fooling ourselves if we blame our problems on the devil? Or are we being spiritually naive if we don't? Does our Christian faith require us to believe in a real, unseen enemy whose aggressive strategy is to keep us from loving and trusting Christ?

Dan Vander Lugt, RBC biblical counselor, has written this booklet to correct some current misconceptions about Satan. It is our prayer that it will help you to be both forewarned and forearmed against an evil empire organized not only to rule the world but to take the place of Christ in your heart.

Is Satan A Myth Or A Reality? 

A recent survey revealed that 81 percent of Americans believe that angels exist and influence people's lives. But the survey also indicated that the majority of people say Satan is not a living being but a symbol of evil. Many in our society are confused about Satan.

A few years ago psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, who authored the remarkable bestseller The People of the Lie, admitted, "In common with 99 percent of psychiatrists and the majority of the clergy, I did not think the devil existed." But this perception may be changing. Many scientifically minded people are no longer so sure. Some, like Peck, have been led toward the Christian faith through their grappling with the reality of evil. Others, though speaking freely of the devil, do so in a non-Christian context.

Ludwig Staudenmaier was a German scientist who accepted the Freudian idea that the devil was only a "myth," a "personification of repressed, unconscious drives." After completing his doctoral work in chemistry, zoology, and theology, he became obsessed with a desire to "explore the boundaries between the natural and the supernatural, to allow the natural sciences to determine as accurately as possible the distinction between pathology and actual satanic manifestations."

At the suggestion of a friend, Staudenmaier began experimenting with the psychic technique known as "automatic writing," a phenomenon in which the subject learns how to place himself into a trance, permitting unseen forces to write messages through his hand. He soon became quite adept at automatic writing even though he considered what he wrote to be the product of his subconscious mind.

Soon, however, he was disturbed by hallucinations, which rapidly increased in both their frequency and severity. One night as he lay in his bed, he had the distinct feeling of a chain being fastened around his neck and tightened. Then came the strong odor of sulphur and a sinister voice saying, "You are now my captive. I will never free you. I am the devil." Although still clinging to his scientific perspective, Staudenmaier began to have second thoughts about his venture. He wrote:

There remains in my mind no doubt that according to a naive, medieval perspective I have become possessed. Therefore, only two alternatives remain: Either I am on the brink of understanding the puzzle of human existence from a new and entirely novel perspective, or I am a fool who has thrown away years of time, health, and perhaps even life itself.

He continued to be tormented by hallucinations until he died some years later in Rome. Staudenmaier's experience is not unique. People of every culture have sensed or encountered the reality of a personal, supernatural, evil, spirit being. Some of the greatest writers of recent centuries are people who took the devil very seriously. Feodor Dostoevski, Charles Baudelaire, Thomas Mann, Flannery O'Connor, and Georges Bernanos are just a few examples.

Satan also appears in areas untouched by Western civilization with its Judeo-Christian heritage. Possibly the most striking satanic figures ever created are the viciously leering "fire gods" crafted 1,000 years before Columbus by post-Olmec Indians.

Jeffrey Burton Russell states: "Parallel formulations of the devil in diverse and widely separated cultures . . . are striking" (The Devil, Cornell Unversity Press, p.55).

In analyzing such evidence two mistakes are made. Some find ways to explain them as psychological phenomena with their origin in the human psyche. This interpretation usually leaves some aspects of these experiences unexplained. Others err in the opposite direction. They see demons everywhere and give simplistic solutions to complex situations. They offer their exorcism formulas as panaceas for almost all ills.

It is important that we avoid both extremes--rationalization and gullibility.

How Do We Know Satan Is Real? 

Science will never find Satan. Its instruments will never be able to measure or prove the reality of spiritual things. The demonic is known by other means.

M. Scott Peck, a recent convert to belief in the devil's reality, tells how he became aware of the spiritual dimension of life, not through scientific inquiry but through grappling with the reality of evil in the lives of his patients. He writes:

I don't hope to convince the reader of Satan's reality. Conversion to a belief in God generally requires some kind of actual encounter--a personal experience--with the living God. Conversion to a belief in Satan is no different (The People of the Lie, Simon and Schuster, p.184).

Many people who insist that they believe only what can be scientifically verified have never taken the time to consider how inconsistent their viewpoint is. The most important things in our lives, after all, are not things that can be proved or disproved scientifically. Science cannot prove that love for family and friends is real. Neither can science assure us of the validity of our emotions in response to beautiful music or a walk through a place of great natural beauty. Beyond this, science cannot provide us with any ultimate standard for values or morality.

There are obviously many real things that cannot be verified, quantified, evaluated, proved, or disproved by science. Reality has dimensions (or "levels") that transcend science and must be understood in different ways. A simple way to understand these "levels" of reality is to think in terms of the following model:

Levels of Reality

As can be seen from this model, things that mean the most cannot be investigated by science at all! Therefore, the Christian need not be embarrassed by the fact that he appeals to the wisdom of the Bible rather than science as the ultimate basis for what he believes about Satan.

The Bible is so full of references to the devil that it is impossible to hold to the Christian faith without accepting the reality of Satan. His existence is taught in seven Old Testament books: Genesis, 1 Chronicles, Job, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah. And it is affirmed by every New Testament writer. Jesus clearly believed in the personal existence of the devil (Matt. 4:1-11; 13:39; Lk. 10:18; 11:18). In fact, in 25 of the 29 passages that refer to Satan in the gospels, Christ is speaking. If such a basic biblical teaching as this were dismissed as outdated superstition, we would have grounds for questioning the Bible's authority in everything it says.

Two Contemporary  

To help us have a clearer understanding of the devil, let's look at two modern trends.

The New Age Nature God. While many insist that the devil is merely a "mythological figure" or a "personified symbol of sin," followers of the New Age movement are returning to ancient paganism for their concept of Satan. One of the influential groups in this movement, the Findhorn Garden Community, provides a striking example of the radical changes that are occurring in the thinking of a large number of well-educated people. They report supernatural experiences, write about the reappearance of old gods, and scorn "modern" ideas about reality.

The Findhorn Community was established in 1966 largely on the experiences of R. Ogilvie Crombie. He reported in detail a face-to-face encounter with a being who introduced himself as the devil. The founder of the Findhorn Community declared that Crombie's encounter "proved to be a turning point in his life--and ours as well" (The Findhorn Garden, Harper and Row, p.17).

Crombie said that the devil has cloven hooves, shaggy legs, and horns on his forehead, but insisted that he is not an evil being. He declared that the devil is actually Pan, the nature god, and that he has been completely misunderstood by the Christian tradition.

Many people, secular humanists and orthodox Christians alike, write off such reports as hallucinations. But thousands of well-educated people are taking them seriously. New Age people are often transformed through their religious experiences. So many are turning to neo-paganism that some think it could prove to be the religion of Antichrist.

The Pop Icon Devil. The second contemporary devil is the product of a sick culture, coming to the fore whenever a society abandons itself to wickedness. During the period of decadence in France prior to the French Revolution, the Marquis de Sade became infamous for his satanic writings. The marquis proposed a philosophy of radical selfishness that theoretically approved of murder, the torture of children, and cannibalism.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a man named E. A. Crowley achieved notoriety as the result of his depraved personal behavior. He called himself "the Great Beast--666," bit women in the neck when introduced to them, defecated on living room carpets, and practiced flamboyant black magic and satanic worship.

Present-day culture is unique in its elevation of such figures to the position of popular heroes. Many of the degenerate pop idols of the last 30 years offer no message except self-indulgence and rebellion. They are parasites who prey upon the social order that nurtures them--hypocrites who sign multimillion dollar record contracts with an establishment they profess to despise. Using a great deal of satanic imagery, these "artists" advocate and model such destructive behavior as drug abuse, promiscuous sex, and violence. Claiming no responsibility for the image they project, they have inspired younger and weaker minds to molestation, mutilation, murder, and suicide.

Who Is Satan? 

Although the pictures of the devil in widely separated civilizations are remarkably uniform, they don't tell us very much about his identity, origin, or activities. To gain specific information concerning his character, we must look to the Bible. Even here, we don't find answers to every question that comes to mind. Still, the Scriptures reveal all we need to know to take him seriously and to frustrate his efforts to destroy us.

His Origin. Satan has not always existed. He and all the other angels were created (Ps. 148:2,5; Col. 1:16). In Ezekiel 28:12-15 we find a description of Satan before he sinned. Although the prophet was speaking to the king of Tyre, there are certain indications in the passage that he was speaking beyond the king to Satan himself. Created by God as "the anointed cherub who covers" (v.14), he was "full of wisdom and perfect in beauty" (v.12) and covered with "every precious stone" (v.13). He was in "Eden, the garden of God" (v.13) and placed "on the holy mountain of God" (v.14). Satan most likely had a special place of prominence in his service to God.

His Sin. Referring to Satan, Ezekiel 28:15 states, "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you." Ezekiel then added, "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (v.17).

Satan's sin originated in pride, grew into self-deception, and ended in rebellion. In Isaiah 14:13,14 we read, "For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation . . . ; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High' " (Is. 14:13,14). Satan's pride so deluded him that he claimed equality with God. This led him to spark a rebellion in which he induced a large number of angels to join him (Rev. 12:4).

His Punishment. After Satan sinned, God threw him out of heaven to the earth (Is. 14:12; Ezek. 28:16,17). His final punishment will come shortly after the end of the millennial reign of Christ on the earth. At that time, Satan will be "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Rev. 20:10).

His Personhood. Satan is not an impersonal evil force. He possesses the traits of personality: intellect (2 Cor. 11:3), emotion (Rev. 12:17), and will (2 Tim. 2:26). Furthermore, personal pronouns are used of him in both the Old and New Testament (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-7; Zech. 3:1,2; Matt. 4:1-12).

His Names. We can learn a great deal about who Satan is by looking at the different names, titles, and representations of him throughout Scripture:

  • Satan (Zech 3:1; Matt. 4:10; Rev. 12:9; 20:2), used 52 times, comes from the Hebrew word satan meaning "adversary" or "opposer."
  • Devil (Matt. 4:1; 13:39; Eph. 4:27; Rev. 12:9; 20:2), used 35 times, comes from the Greek word diabolos meaning "slanderer, accuser."
  • Lucifer (Is. 14:12) means "son of the morning," "shining one," or "light bearer." Even though this describes him before his fall, Satan currently "transforms himself into an angel of light" to deceive the world (2 Cor. 11:14).
  • Anointed cherub (Ezek. 28:14) indicates that he had one of the highest (if not the highest) ranking of all the angels.
  • Evil one (Matt. 13:19,38; John 17:15; Eph. 6:16; 1 John 5:18,19) describes him as the personification of evil.
  • Ruler of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) refers to his power over the evil world-system of men and demons.
  • God of this age (2 Cor. 4:4) is used in reference to his power to blind the minds of the world to the gospel.
  • Prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) describes his pervasive spiritual influence.
  • Serpent (Gen. 3:1; 2 Cor. 11:3; Rev. 12:9; 20:2) portrays his deceit and craftiness.
  • Dragon (Rev. 12:3,7,9) indicates his fierce nature and power to destroy.
  • Accuser (Rev. 12:10).
  • Tempter (Matt. 4:3; 1 Thess 3:5).
  • Deceiver (Rev. 12:9; 20:3).
  • Murderer (John 8:44).
  • Liar (John 8:44).
  • Sinner (1 John 3:8).
  • Beelzebub, ruler of the demons (Matt 10:25; 12:24,27; Mark 3:22; Luke 11:15), literally translated means "lord of the flies."
  • Belial (2 Cor. 6:15) means "worthless" or "wicked."
  • Roaring lion (1 Pet. 5:8) describes him as hungry and on the prowl to devour Christians.


Fighting

FightingA life of faith in Jesus Christ is a life of conflict. Jesus referred to the devil as our enemy (Matt. 13:39; Luke 10:19), and he is also called our adversary (1 Pet. 5:8). As such, he hates God's people and tries to destroy them. He does this with a strategy of infiltration, neutralization, and destruction.

Planting counterfeits. Jesus warned us that our enemy, the devil, plants false Christians among the true (Matt. 13:24-30). Some of these "false brethren" (2 Cor. 11:26) directly attack true believers. Others try to introduce a false, ritualistic gospel within the organized church (Gal. 1:6-9). Still others, either from within the church or through a cult, teach a counterfeit righteousness (Rom. 10:1-3). Jesus called these tares "the sons of the wicked one," declaring that the one who sows them is "the devil" (Matt. 13:38,39).

Though proper church discipline can remove some impostors and false teachers from the local congregation, we can't always tell the false from the true. It is impossible, therefore, to cleanse the church completely of its enemy agents. Nevertheless, we need to be on guard at all times, measuring all things by the Word of God, testing not only the words of fellow believers but also their behavior and attitudes. If you find a spirit of pride and willfulness, be careful. Apply the Word of God with humility and gentleness (Matt. 18:15-17; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 2 Pet. 2; 1 John 4:1-6).

Devouring Victims. Satan is an inhuman, merciless fiend whose ultimate goal is the destruction of the human race. He should never be taken lightly. Peter, who learned by personal experience what it meant to be shaken in the grip of Satan (Luke 22:31-34,54-62), later referred to the devil as our enemy who prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8).

Some Bible interpreters have taken the word devour quite literally. They point out that Peter was writing to Christians under persecution who might be tempted to deny their faith. Interestingly, a letter has been found in which an early Christian described fellow believers who at first denied their faith but later repented and stood firm as having been "devoured" by Satan and "disgorged alive."

C. S. Lewis depicts Satan and evil spirits as motivated by "a kind of hunger." He also points out that very self-centered people often try to gain total control over their companions. He compares their desire to "absorb" the personalities of other people to Satan:

It is for this that Satan desires all his own followers and all the sons of Eve and all the hosts of heaven. His dream is of the day when all shall be inside him and all that says "I" can say it only through him (The Screwtape Letters, Macmillan Publishing Company, Preface, p.xi).

Of course, Satan hasn't been granted the power to devour the children of God. But he can influence us to the point of making us serve his ends.

Satan, therefore, is our enemy--clever, cruel, hungry, always on the prowl. As the enemy of the church, he plants counterfeit Christians alongside the genuine. We must be on guard against these tactics. And we must counterattack by bearing fruit for God wherever we have been planted. As the devouring enemy, he will draw us into himself and make us his instruments unless we maintain a serious attitude toward life and keep on the alert.


Ruling

RulingThe devil heads a great kingdom of evil. The New Testament refers to him as "the god of this age" (2 Cor. 4:4), "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph. 2:2), and the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31). Jesus identifies Satan with Beelzebub, prince of the demons (Luke 11:14-23). In addition, his human followers are "the sons of the wicked one" (Matt. 13:38), "ministers" of Satan (2 Cor. 11:15), the "synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 2:9), and the "children of the devil" (1 John 3:10). He exercised authority over the rulers of Persia through a demon called "the prince of the kingdom of Persia" (Dan. 10:12,13). Jude portrays him as so awesome in his power and authority that the archangel "dared not bring against him a reviling accusation" (v.9). In Ephesians 6:12 he is pictured as heading a well-organized army of spiritual agents.

The devil, however, is not everywhere-present, all-powerful, or all-knowing, like God. He is subject to the limitations of creaturehood. To carry out his program he must work through subordinates--both demonic and human.

He has organized his demons into a military structure. As noted earlier, a demon was assigned to influence the leaders of Persia (Dan. 10:12,13). The terms principalities, powers, rulers of this darkness, spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph. 6:12) denote the ranks in his army. Through them he gathers information and implements his will. Just as a competent general can impose a high degree of control over his army and through his troops carry out his program over a vast area, the devil can rule his worldwide kingdom of darkness.

The devil also uses people. Although he can be in only one place at one time and cannot personally work in every human heart, he influences multitudes both through his demonic followers and through a system of thought the Bible calls "the world." John wrote:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world (1 John 2:15-17).

The "world" in this context is a way of thinking that dominates the life of runaway humanity. The characteristics of this thought-system may vary from one culture to another, but these differences are relatively insignificant. What is consistent, however, is an emphasis on the temporal rather than the eternal. He influences multitudes as they buy into the thinking of their day.

He also uses mankind's sinful nature. Paul declared that before we came to Christ we "were dead in trespasses and sins, . . . walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, . . . conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh" (Eph. 2:1-3). When people willfully choose evil, they become the "children of the devil" (John 8:44; Acts 13:10; 1 John 3:10). Thus multitudes of people either knowingly or unknowingly help Satan in his role as "the god of this world."

The devil's power over mankind, though limited by God's permissive and directive will, is fearful. He and his evil spirits can assume visible form (Matt. 4, Luke 4); cause blindness (Matt. 12:22), paralysis (Acts 8:7), and convulsions (Luke 9:39); induce self-destructive or bizarre behavior (Luke 8:27; Matt. 17:15); compel animals to destroy themselves (Matt. 8:28-34); create powerful illusions (Ex. 7:11,12); and perform signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24).

Evil spirits have the power to directly influence our health, moods, imagination, and thoughts. For example, it is sobering to read that "Satan entered Judas" (Luke 22:3) and led him to betray Christ and finally commit suicide. And it is frightening to read about the horrible condition of the two demon-possessed men in Matthew 8:28,29.

We must not make the mistake of minimizing Satan's power or denying the reality of his kingdom of evil. But we must also avoid the error of giving in to despair. He cannot go beyond the limits set by God. Moreover, the Christian who submits to God and resists the devil can put him to flight (James 4:7).


Deceiving

DeceivingThe Lord Jesus placed heavy emphasis on the deceitful nature of the devil. In a confrontation with the Pharisees, He declared that their inability to recognize the truth was due to the fact that they were allied with the devil.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44, NIV).

Dr. William Hendriksen made this comment:

The devil, then, is the very wellspring of lies, the creator of falsehoods . . . . When he lies, he is the original. When he does not lie (Acts 16:16,17), he quotes or even plagiarizes; but even then he gives the borrowed words a false setting in order to create an illusion. He ever strives to lie and to deceive, and this he does in order to murder (The Gospel of John, Baker, p.61).

It is the devil's very nature to lie because he began his career in an act of self-delusion. "You have said in your heart: . . . I will exalt my throne above the stars of God . . . I will be like the Most High" (Is. 14:13,14).

By deluding himself into believing that he could claim a position of equality with the Most High, Satan fell from his position of high honor. He became the "father of lies," depending on a web of self-deceit and illusion to maintain his fantasy of equality with God.

By claiming equality with God, the devil is forced to lie to himself about every aspect of reality. His rebellion has locked him into an irrational posture in which he desperately denies the evidence of his own hopelessness and meaninglessness.

The devil's position is the same as that of an extremely self-centered person who clings to an unrealistic view of himself. For example, a self-centered person who thinks he is a great singer will not accept any criticism that implies the contrary. Rather than admitting the possibility that he might be wrong in his estimate of himself, he will associate only with people who encourage him in his self-delusion. He may continue to believe that he is a wonderful singer even if he can find no one else who agrees.

The psychological term for such irrational willfulness is narcissism, and we are all aware of people who to a greater or lesser degree exhibit this tendency. Such people eventually accept reality (however painful it may be) or they defy it by either withdrawing into their own inner world or attempting to reconstruct reality so that it fits their false ideas. (Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin are two individuals who took the second approach.) The devil is the ultimate narcissist. He is powerful and willful enough to attempt to restructure all of God's created reality in order to keep his false sense of self-importance.

Satan does not deceive others in the manner of one who knows the truth and merely seeks to mislead. Satan lies because his own intelligence has been darkened by his perverted will. He is the "father of lies" because he has deluded himself and willfully persists in his self-delusion.

Let's take a look at how the self-deceived one has been aggressively deceiving mankind from the very beginning of human history.

The Elements of Satan's Lie. The basic elements of Satan's lie are recorded in Genesis 3:1-8. His words seem to have been chosen carefully to cause Eve to question God's trustworthiness: "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the Garden'?" He wanted Eve to perceive God from his own diabolic perspective, questioning God's motives and intentions. He wanted her to fear that God's plans for her would violate her individuality and run contrary to her deepest needs and desires.

The devil next denied the truth of God's warning. He said, "You will not surely die." Having planted doubt in Eve's mind concerning God's goodness, he wanted her to believe that no consequences would result from her disobedience.

He continued: "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (v.5). These words were a direct attack on God's goodness and an appeal to Eve's pride. Satan portrayed the Lord as denying Adam and Eve the one thing that would bring them ultimate fulfillment--equality with God. These perverse words came straight from the devil's heart, reflecting his own view of God.

When Adam and Eve acted in accordance with the lie, they became the helpless pawns of Satan's rebellion. His lie remains unchanged today.

The Results of Believing Satan's Lie. The story of the fall shows us that when people believe Satan's lie that God cannot be fully trusted, they fall into the fear of self-exposure. After Adam and Eve had eaten from the forbidden tree, they became conscious of their nakedness, made a feeble attempt to cover their shame with fig leaves, and tried to hide from God (Gen. 3:7-10).

Christian psychologist Larry Crabb says that the primary motivation for all of our social behavior is a fear that if others really knew us as we are, they would reject us in disgust. This fear of exposure is rooted in our sense of the ugliness of our fallen natures as they have been perverted and corrupted by sin. Satan delights in inflaming this fear until we, like the Pharisees, transform ourselves into "whitewashed tombs" (Matt 23:27) of self-deceit and self-righteousness.

M. Scott Peck has observed that the central defect of evil people lies not in the fact that they sin but in the fact "that they refuse to acknowledge [their sin]" (People of the Lie, p.69). He also points out that evil people are the people of the lie, "deceiving others as they also build layer upon layer of self-deception" (p.66).

This fear of self-exposure drives people into relativism, mysticism, and legalism. Often they find themselves confronted with intense experiences and "counterfeit gods" so compelling that they become convinced that they are on the right track. When this happens, they fall helplessly into the clutches of that self-deluded serpent who is masquerading as the source of truth.

Satan's Disguise. Paul warns us that Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). This is necessarily so, since anyone would flee from him if they sensed his true nature. A master of disguise, Satan appears in many forms to conceal the truth of the incarnation.

The New Age movement gives us many examples of how this happens. While it denies the reality of a separate creator and claims a form of deity for man, this current cosmic charade is replete with accounts of encounters with "guides," "spirits," "entities," and figures from pagan mythology. Carlos Castenada's books on Yacqui Sorcery contain hair-raising accounts of his meetings with demonic figures. Shirley MacLaine's popularization of the practices of "channeling" and "astral projection" is just a resurfacing of occultic practices that have long been widespread. Carl Jung, the brilliant founder of the Jungian School of Psychology, was noted for his occult interests. While he vehemently denied the truth of the incarnation, he embraced the theory of reincarnation on the authority of figures who spoke to him in his visions and dreams.

Satan's kingdom works through sinister figures like the Nazi leaders (all of whom were deeply involved with occultism). But he also deceives people through innocent-appearing means. Reports that the wife of an American president relied on astrology for advice on important decisions are deeply disturbing. The kingdom of darkness also tempts us with many things that are not evil in themselves. Wealth, property, fame, power, family, friends, science, art, and even religion can become false gods if they distract us from an understanding of our loving Creator as He has revealed Himself in Christ.


Accusing 

AccusingIn Revelation 12:10 the devil is portrayed as the "accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night." The Greek word for devil (diabolos) means "slanderer, false accuser." The classic statement on the role of Satan as the great accuser is found in the book of Job (1:6-12; 2:1-5). And in the vision recorded in Zechariah 3:1-10, Satan is standing at the right hand of Joshua to make accusation against him. God apparently allowed him this privilege so that His grace to sinners might be magnified.

Because he hates those who don't believe his lie, Satan is an accuser of Christ and all who follow Him. Because he denies the goodness of God's creation, we can expect him to place the worst possible interpretation on any act of faith and obedience. Since Satan's accusing spirit is duplicated in the fleshly nature of every person, obedient Christians are exposed to constant accusation from within and without (Rom. 7:13-25).

The devil shares his character with all who join him in doubting the goodness of God. People who resist the truth and thus become "the children of the devil" become so warped and twisted in mind that even the best actions of God's people are often perceived as being rooted in evil.

We see this trait of fallen man illustrated in the Pharisees' attitude toward Jesus Christ. They called the sinless Son of God a drunkard, a glutton, a friend of immoral people, a violator of the law, a sorcerer, an insurrectionist, and a blasphemer.

Anyone who has felt the force of the accuser's power realizes how helpless we are to resist his temptations and accusations in our own strength. Each of us is so compromised by sin and impure motives that we can be confused, paralyzed, and even driven to despair when we are exposed to the merciless attack of either the fleshly nature within or demonic accusations without. If it were not for the saving and interceding role of Christ, we would quickly succumb to the charges of our accusing enemy.

Peter learned this lesson the hard way. When self-confidence prompted him to declare his willingness to live and die for Christ, the Lord warned him:

Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren (Luke 22:31,32).

Knowing that Peter had opened the door for the devil by his self-confidence, Jesus told him what the devil would be doing and promised to intercede for him. The devil's accusations would sift Peter like wheat, confusing him, demoralizing him, and separating him from his faith as wheat is separated from chaff.

Peter did lose his courage, and he denied his Lord three times. But because of Christ's intercession, his faith did not fail. Here is a solemn warning against self-confidence! Our sins and failings make us vulnerable to Satan's accusations. We must stand before God therefore on the basis of Christ's righteousness (Phil. 3:1-9; Titus 3:5), not our own. We need the intercession of Him who had no shade of falseness or improper motive. He, and He alone, could say, "The ruler of this world is coming, and he has nothing in Me" (John 14:30).


Possessing

PossessingPossession by either Satan or his demons really does occur. The Gospels record many instances in which the devil or his demons took control of a victim's personality. The Gospels also, however, distinguish between possession and ordinary illness (Mark 6:13).

Cases of demonic possession have been reported by many missionaries, especially by those who introduced the Gospel into pagan territory. Recent books by Malachi Martin and M. Scott Peck have been valuable in counteracting unbiblical skepticism among Christians and nonbelievers concerning the reality of Satan. The work of these men also sounds serious warning to Christians who are too eager to dabble with exorcism. Martin and Peck insist that exorcism poses great dangers, not only to the subject but also to the exorcist.

Demon Possession in the Past. In the New Testament, most cases of demonic possession occurred prior to the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. In the book of Acts we find only a few such reports, and they generally took place in the early stages of evangelistic activity in an area. Peter cast out demons while in Jerusalem (5:16). Philip did so in Samaria (8:7). Paul delivered a young woman from a fortunetelling demon at Philippi (16:16-18) and cast out indwelling demons at Ephesus (19:11,12). None of these cases involved a demon-possessed believer. Moreover, the Epistles make no mention of demon possession and give no instructions for exorcism. It appears that the men whom God chose to write the Epistles didn't view demon possession as a serious problem in the church.

Present-day Demon Possession. We should not equate mental illness with demon possession, as some did in the past and are doing today. Malachi Martin has warned:

Many people suffering from illnesses and diseases well known to us today such as paranoia, Huntington's chorea, dyslexia, Parkinson's disease, or even mere skin diseases (psoriasis and herpes I, for instance) were treated as people "possessed" or at least as "touched" by the devil (Hostage to the Devil, p.11).

It does not follow, however, that there is no demon possession today. Missionaries still encounter it in pagan cultures, and it may become more frequent as people increasingly go back to pagan ideas and drift into the occult.

M. Scott Peck writes:

As a hardheaded scientist--which I assume myself to be--I can explain 95 percent of what went on in these cases by traditional psychiatric dynamics . . . But I am left with a critical 5 percent that I cannot explain in such ways. I am left with the supernatural . . . (People of the Lie, pp.195, 196).

Exorcism Today. The admission that some demon possession exists today must be countered by a serious warning about the grave dangers involved with exorcism. It should be resorted to only after all other possible spiritual, medical, and psychiatric avenues of treatment have been explored. And it should be attempted only by spiritually mature believers who are aware of the dangers. Ephesians 6:11 states that we will need the whole armor of God in order to "stand against the wiles of the devil."

One of the primary dangers associated with exorcism is the potential of leading a person into unreality and psychosis. As fallen people, each of us has a deep, largely unconscious fear of seeing our sins as they really are. Even Christians who have been growing in maturity for many years are quick to admit that they have not yet even begun to understand the darkest depths of their personal depravity. It is therefore very dangerous to suggest to a person that his bad thoughts and actions may be due to demonic influence. Such a suggestion is likely to cause a disturbed person to become obsessed with the demonic--projecting the responsibility for his own personal evil upon "outside" demonic forces. In turn, the victim of demonic obsession is then likely to exhibit the symptoms of false possession, in which he unconsciously imitates the symptoms of actual possession (including voice changes and apparent alterations of personality).

Ironically, a victim of false possession may actually become possessed by demons if he is encouraged to continue abdicating responsibility for his own sinful behavior. By pointing out the dangers of demonic obsession and false possession, we are by no means denying the reality of demonic influences. Demonic influences may be involved in many (or even most) cases of obsession or false possession. But it is impossible to rid a person of demonic influence as long as he has not yet faced the "core" problem of his personal sin and rebellion.

Exorcism, then, should not be undertaken until all other factors--physical, psychological, and spiritual--have been carefully explored.

In summary, the silence of the epistles on the matter of demon possession does not imply that demonic possession is not real. We may infer, however, that Christians shouldn't worry about needing exorcisms for the expulsion of demons. The supernatural power of the Holy Spirit is sufficient to drive even the influence of Satan from the life of a believer who deals with his sins and seeks to do God's will.

The Only Answer To Satan's Lie 

Just as Satan successfully tempted Adam and Eve to sin, he still tempts each of us today. His lies don't change. Satan still tells us, "You can't trust God. He isn't concerned about your happiness. There is no danger in disobeying His laws. He knows that you can be equal to Him. You know what is best for you."

Satan's lie that God cannot be fully trusted can be countered only by the gospel with its doctrine of the incarnation. Man cannot answer the devil's lie with an appeal to nature or human experience. These can present mixed messages, sometimes giving the impression that God is good and at other times implying just the opposite. The natural world is merciless, offering horrible spectacles of terror and suffering. Catastrophes such as storms, floods, and earthquakes claim thousands of innocent lives, and scores of terrible diseases spread death and despair. The natural man is easily convinced that any evidences of God's love, goodness, and mercy are only a cruel joke in light of the real world--the world ruled by the law of fang and claw.

Each of us has had his own experience of the ruthless realities of a fallen world. Disease and accidents have unexpectedly crippled and killed family members or friends. Many of us have been hardened and disillusioned by betrayal at the hands of people we trusted. To harden ourselves against the pain of further disappointment and betrayal, we have become like actors in an old-fashioned melodrama. We conceal our true faces behind masks, driven by fear to play a role rather than to allow others to see us as we really are.

God understood the effects of our fears on our darkened minds. He knew that we were not capable of resisting Satan's lies--that our personal experiences of life in a fallen world would cause us to have insurmountable doubts about His goodness and love. Only a supreme act of grace could overcome the deep impression made by natural evil and satanic lies. This is one of the reasons God became a man.

By entering our dimension of time and space, God allowed us to see a reality far above that of our fallen world. In the person of Jesus Christ, the holy light of God's love shone brilliantly in the midst of our world's darkness, dispelling Satan's power to deceive us (John 1:9,10; Heb. 2:14,15).

God knows the earthly sorrows of His creatures. He has embraced us in our sin and weakness--personally sharing our experience of fear, alienation, and death. The apostle Paul wrote:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

When we believe what God says in His Word about Christ, we will be delivered from doubt about His goodness. We will also be freed from the fear that He in His holiness will condemn us. Instead of trying to flee from Him into philosophies that deny His existence, we can approach Him. We can be realistic about our sinfulness and yet be confident in His forgiving grace.

How Can We Defeat Satan? 

On the basis of the salvation God has provided for us, the Scriptures lay out practical guidelines by which we can defeat Satan.

Have Confidence in God. The first decision we must make to be freed from Satan's power is to choose to trust God. We must acknowledge our helplessness, sinfulness, and lost condition. Then we must accept the free gift of salvation He has offered us in Christ and stand before God clothed in His Son's righteousness (Phil. 3:1-9; Titus 3:5).

Submit to God and Resist Satan. Although Christ has given us authority over Satan (1 John 4:4), we can exercise it only as we submit ourselves to God and resist the enemy (Eph. 6:11; James 4:7; 1 Pet. 5:8,9).

Be Aware of Satan's Strategies. Satan can take advantage of us if we are "ignorant of his devices" (2 Cor. 2:11). For example, by harboring anger, we "give place to the devil" (Eph. 4:27); by depriving our marriage partner of sexual intimacy, we give Satan an opportunity to tempt us (1 Cor. 7:5); by placing an unqualified man in a position of leadership in the church, we take the chance of making him vulnerable to pride and to "fall into the same condemnation as the devil" and "the snare of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6,7).

Put on the Armor of God. Using the metaphor of a well-equipped Roman soldier, Paul told how we can be prepared for spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:11-18).

  • The belt of truth. Since Satan depends on deceit to maintain his power, our first line of defense is always to be truthful. We must never distort or misrepresent the truth, regardless of any advantage we might gain by doing so.
  • The breastplate of righteousness. Any sin in our life leaves us open to Satan's attack. Even though we are given the righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21), we must still continually put on the protection of holy living.
  • The shoes of the gospel of peace. With our feet firmly planted on the truth that we are at peace with God and that He is on our side, we can stand firmly against Satan's attacks.
  • The shield of faith. In order to quench the "fiery darts" of Satan's temptations, we must trust and believe what God has said about every area of our life.
  • The helmet of salvation. This is the confidence that there is coming in the future a great victory celebration. It's also referred to as the "hope of salvation" (1 Thess. 5:8). This helmet protects us against Satan's two-edged sword of discouragement and doubt.
  • The sword of the Spirit. Since the Word of God is the basis of our faith, we need to learn how to wield it with authority. Scripture is our best offensive weapon against the devil (Matt. 4:1-11).

After he described the various elements of the armor, Paul said that we are to be in constant prayer. Prayer expresses our dependence on God. We can fight against Satan only "in the [strength of the] Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10). In the power of Christ with the armor of the Spirit we will be victors.


 


 



 

WHY DID CHRIST HAVE TO DIE?
 
Repeatedly in His teaching ministry, Christ affirmed that He “must” go to Jerusalem and die. But couldn’t there have been another way—a better way? In this booklet, we examine this issue from the perspective of Christ’s mission and man’s condition. We see the absolute necessity of the crucifixion and the compelling motivation it gives to share the message of the cross with others.

Couldn't He have accomplished more by living a full and happy life? Think of the people He could have healed, the teaching He could have done, the problems He could have solved. Why was He obsessed with dying? Why didn't He defend Himself in court for the sake of His family, His disciples, and all who admired Him? This booklet, compiled by our staff of writers, takes a look at the reasons given in the Bible why Christ planned and allowed His own death.

THE SYMBOL OF THE CROSS

Can you imagine what public reaction would be if a fundamentalist religious group adopted an electric chair as its symbol? Think of what it would be like to see an image of an electric chair on top of their meeting places or as jewelry hanging around their necks.

Yet that's what the cross amounts to. The cross was a means of capital punishment. Crucifixion was the way the Romans put their worst criminals to death. It was horrible--far worse than a gas chamber, firing squad, or even a hangman's noose.

Why, then, do Christians make so much of this instrument of public ridicule and torture? Why are Christians obsessed with this symbol of death? Do they realize what they are doing?

In many cases, the answer seems to be no. Even Christians fail to realize the implications of the cross. It has become so widely used as religious jewelry, as a symbol of love and hope, and even as a sign of good luck that it has lost much of its original meaning and horror. It has become so generally accepted, in fact, that everyone from devoted followers of Christ to atheists wear its image around their necks.

THE OPINIONS OF THE CROSS

So what do people think of the cross? More specifically, what do they think of the cross as it relates to Christ? That's where the symbol comes from, and that's where the real discussion begins. Why did a beautiful life have to come to such a terrible end? What was in His mind? What should now be in ours? Here are some of the explanations people give for the death of Christ.

It is an example of nonresistance. Some people feel that when Jesus died on the cross He was giving us the ultimate example of how to live in a violent, hostile world. They say that His death shows us how to live successfully by being strong enough to let others have their way.

It means whatever you want it to mean. Those who take this approach generally believe that Christ did not actually accomplish anything when He died on the cross. Since it has become such a part of our awareness, it can be used to symbolize many different things.

It has no real meaning. Some people say that the significance of Christ was in His life--not in His death. They believe that He came to live a flawless life on earth so that we could know what God is like. But that was all God sent Him to do. His death, they say, was not related to His mission on earth.

It represents failure. Those who hold this view say that Jesus had a noble and global plan for earth, but that He died before He could carry it out. His mission was aborted when the Roman soldiers nailed Him to the cross like a common criminal. When Christ died, these people say, it meant that He had failed.

THE OFFENSIVENESS OF THE CROSS

Some people see so much good in the cross that they fail to see it as a terrible instrument of death. But to others, the cross is so offensive that they fail to see its value.

The apostle Paul said it would be that way. Writing to the Christians at Corinth, he said:

But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Cor. 1:23).

The apostles' claim that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah was almost impossible for a Jew to accept. To believe that the Messiah died on the cross was unimaginable--especially since the Old Testament said that anyone who died on a tree was cursed by God (Deut. 21:23). The cross offended them deeply.

The Gentiles too were offended by the cross. In their opinion, it was foolishness. They felt that their logical thinking and good living would satisfy the gods. They saw no reason to believe in the senseless death of an obscure Galilean.

And what about people today? Does the cross still offend? Do people still stumble over its message?

  • If their philosophical point of view does not include the reality of sin and the need of a Savior, the answer is yes!
  • If by their godly living and high morals they expect to win God's approval, yes!
  • If they expect His favor because of their national heritage or family name, yes!
  • If they think God is too loving to punish people for their wrongs, yes!

The message of the cross, a first-century "electric chair," will offend them.

What we need to realize, however, is that the cross is not just something hard to live with. It actually makes life possible. In fact, the cross resolved the greatest dilemma of all time.

THE DILEMMA OF THE CROSS

The cross resolves two great dilemmas--one from God's perspective and one from man's. All parents can understand the dilemma of not wanting to correct a disobedient child with painful discipline, while at the same time realizing that you can't just blink or yawn at his bad behavior.

What do you do? You love that little one. But he has also clearly disobeyed you, and right now he is lying to you in an attempt to cover it up. Sure, you love him. But you also know that you can't just brush off the problem. He has to be punished-- and you've got to do it.

The situation caused by our sin was infinitely more complex than that. But there are some parallels. Because God is a holy God, He cannot just ignore our sin. Yet because He is a loving God, He is not merely willing to let us get what we deserve.

Another illustration might help us to see the dilemma from man's perspective. Imagine a group of people trapped on the roof of a high-rise building engulfed in flames. The only way to safety is to jump to the roof of an adjoining building--30 feet away! In desperation, people begin to attempt the impossible leap. Some jump farther out than others, but all fall to their death.

So it is with man's helpless condition before God. Our sin caused a separation between us and a holy God that cannot be bridged by anything we do. We are utterly helpless to save ourselves. But the love of God provided a way: the cross of Christ.

We might diagram the dilemma like this:

The necessity for Calvary's tree can be traced back to a much earlier tree. All our problems began when our first parents willfully and disobediently ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God had said that Adam and his wife would die if they ate the fruit of that tree. And they did. From that time on, no man was the man he was created to be. From that time on, the children of Adam were born physically alive but spiritually dead. Not only was the garden paradise lost, but so was the innocence man was created with.

Every child born from Eden until today has proven that innocence was lost. Once created to walk with God, man has inherited a nature that causes him to forget God, to hate his fellowmen, and to live a life of self-destruction. Because of this, David the king of Israel went on record as saying, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me" (Ps. 51:5).

And the apostle Paul wrote, ". . . through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin" (Rom. 5:12) and "the wages of sin is death" (6:23). In another letter he wrote, ". . . in Adam all die" (1 Cor. 15:22).

This is our condition. When Adam followed the way of the serpent, he didn't just hurt himself. When he ate of that tree in defiance of his Maker, spiritual and physical death fell upon all men. And so it has come now to us. The proof is, all of us sinned against God the first chance we got.

Furthermore, we can't do anything to help ourselves. No amount of self-improvement or good deeds can win back what Adam lost. The prophet Isaiah saw this clearly, for he said that our best efforts are nothing better than dirty rags (Is. 64:6). Much later, the apostle Paul expressed the same awareness (Eph. 2:8,9). His words remind us that no man can pull himself up to God by yanking on his own bootstraps.

This is bad news. But the Bible, the most reliable book in the world, claims to be true. We are born into this world spiritually dead. We are born separated from God. We are born into a world of physical and spiritual death, and unless something happens, we will live out our lives in rebellion against God. Unless something happens, we are destined for the judgment of God--the second death, the lake of fire created for the devil and all of his demons.

And if that were not enough, the Bible tells us that there's not a thing in the world we can do on our own to merit a rescue. Without a doubt, we need help. We need rescue. We need to be delivered from our guilt and bondage--before it is everlastingly too late.

THE RESOLUTION OF THE CROSS

When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have struck them dead instantly. And He would have been just in doing so, because His holy nature demands that disobedience be punished by death.

Yet, because God is love, He did not strike our first parents dead. Instead, He sought them out, provided them with a covering of animal skins, and gave to them a wonderful promise (Gen. 3:15). At that point God announced the good news. Yes, the good news is that God Himself resolved the dilemma--His holiness is counter-balanced by His love! Love found a way. Love found another tree, the cross (Rom. 5:6). God in His wisdom provided a way to undo the terrible damage done to man at that first tree.

The tree in the Garden of Eden has now given way to the cross. And on that tree of humiliation, goodness triumphed over evil. Mercy triumphed over justice. The rescue was completed. The mission was accomplished. The dilemma was resolved.

 
THE PRINCIPLES OF THE CROSS
 
How did God do it? What did He see in that ugly tree of execution? What happened as His only begotten and dearly loved Son bled, struggled, cried, "It is finished," and then gave up His spirit?

Let's look at two principles of resolution that ended the dilemma caused by our sin and helplessness and God's holiness and love: (1) the principle of adequate sacrifice, and (2) the principle of necessary substitution.

PRINCIPLE 1:
The cross provided an adequate sacrifice.
There can be no forgiveness without a sacrificial death (Heb. 9:22). Through His death on the cross, Jesus Christ presented to God a sacrifice sufficient to pay for the sins of all mankind. The animal deaths of Old Testament days fell far short of that, for they did not actually take away sin.

The Old Testament sacrifices had to be offered every day. Animal after animal was brought to the altar and slain. Each new day brought a new round of sacrificial slayings. The writer of Hebrews, commenting on this fact, said, "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Heb. 10:4).

Furthermore, those sacrifices were only for sins committed involuntarily, in ignorance, or through human weakness (Lev. 4:2-7). A sacrifice could not be given for a premeditated, deliberate sin in Old Testament days. That is why David, when he repented of his double sin of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, did not even present a sacrifice. Rather, he came before God with "a broken and contrite heart" to find forgiveness (Ps. 51:16,17).

By His death on the cross, the Lord Jesus provided a once-for-all sacrifice for all our sins (Heb. 10:12). He was the complete and perfect sacrifice. It satisfied every demand of a holy God, and it brings salvation to all who trust in Christ.

His sacrifice was adequate for several reasons:

  • He became a member of the human family. He could truly represent us (something no angel could do) because He took to Himself a human nature.
  • He lived a sinless life. Confronted by physical, mental, and spiritual temptation, Jesus did not sin (Heb. 4:15). Therefore, when He died, He did so as a perfect human being. Because He did not sin, He could die for our sins.
  • He remained God. Even though Christ became fully human, He also retained His full deity. He was not half God and half man; He was fully God and fully man. His goodness is what gave His sacrifice infinite value, making it adequate to pay for the sins of all mankind.

PRINCIPLE 2:
The cross provided a necessary substitute.
Jesus had substitution in mind when He told His followers that He would give His life as a "ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

Whether they recognized it or not when He said it, His disciples would soon learn that Christ was planning to give His life in exchange for their legal release from sin and guilt. On the cross, Christ would die in their place--and in our place. At Calvary, He died the death all of us should have died, taking the punishment we deserved. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son" (John 3:16). Because of our helplessness, God in love sent His Son to be our substitute. He exchanged His life for ours, dying that we might live (Is. 53:5,6; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18).

When Jesus said that He had come to give His life a ransom for many, His hearers probably realized that He had in mind the Jewish sacrificial system. From early childhood they had seen sheep or oxen or turtle doves brought to the altar and killed. They knew that the animal's death was associated with their sins. As they watched the priest place his hand on the forehead of the animal, they realized that this was a symbol of the transfer of guilt from the sinner to the animal. Then, when they saw the beast killed and the blood sprinkled around the altar, they understood that this blood in some way symbolized the taking away of their guilt.

The same principle of the substitute was later fulfilled in the One of whom John the Baptist said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

This principle is illustrated by a story from American history. In a tribe of Indians, someone was stealing chickens. The chief declared that, if caught, the offender would receive 10 lashes. When the stealing continued, he raised it to 20 lashes. Still the chickens methodically disappeared. In anger the chief raised the sentence to 100 lashes--a sure sentence of death.

The thief was finally caught. But the chief faced a terrible dilemma. The thief was his own mother!

When the day of penalty came, the whole tribe gathered. Would the chief's love override his justice? The crowd gasped when he ordered his mother to be tied to the whipping post. The chief removed his shirt, revealing his powerful stature, and took the whip in hand. But instead of raising it to strike the first blow, he handed it to a strong, young brave at his side.

Slowly the chief walked over to his mother and wrapped his massive arms around her in an engulfing embrace. Then he ordered the brave to give him the 100 lashes.

That's what Jesus did for us. In love He became our substitute and died in our place. He overcame our inability to save ourselves by paying the price for our sins. In our illustration, a mother's life was extended by the substitutionary love of her son; for us, everlasting life was bought through the substitutionary death of Christ.

The death of Christ, therefore, was of tremendous value, for it bridged the gulf between God and man. Look again at what happened.

Man's Condition: Condemned by Adam's sin and his own, and powerless to do anything to save himself, man was under the penalty of death.

God's Position: God was bound by His own holiness to punish evil. To do less would be to violate His own character. But because He is also love, He desired to save man from his sentence of death.

The Resolution: Christ, God's Son, became human, lived a sinless life, then died on our behalf. His sacrificial, substitutionary death made possible our salvation.

Look at the complete diagram. It shows you how the death of Christ resolved the dilemma.

 
THE RESULTS OF THE CROSS
 
The death of Jesus Christ 2,000 years ago was not just a heroic act that caught the imagination of a band of religious idealists. Nor was it an act of weakness.

It was a loving, courageous, death-defying mission of rescue. The result is that the person who trusts in Jesus Christ is changed in his relationship to God. He is changed in his relationship to his own sin. And his future is changed, both for this life and the life to come.

That change is spelled out in four basic concepts that show the results of what Christ did for us. Here is what is ours once we have accepted the sacrificial, substitutionary death of Christ.

1. RECONCILIATION: We are at peace with God. When Jesus Christ died on the cross, He made it possible for us to be reconciled to God and restored to fellowship with Him by faith in Christ. Enmity is turned to friendship, alienation to sonship, hostility to faith, and hatred to love because of Christ's sacrifice on the cross (Rom. 5:1,10; 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22).

2. JUSTIFICATION: We are declared right before God. When Jesus Christ died, He absorbed our punishment. Therefore, when we believe in Him, our sins are no longer held against us (Rom. 3:24; 4:5; 5:1,9; 8:30,31; Titus 3:4-7).

3. REDEMPTION: We are ransomed from our sin and condemnation. The death of Christ also means we have been bought out of bondage to sin and Satan. The ransom price for our sin has been paid in full (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30; Gal. 3:13; 4:4,5; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Titus 2:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18,19).

4. PROPITIATION: We are free from God's wrath. This is possible because an acceptable offering has been made on our behalf. The offering has been made to appease God, to turn His wrath from us (Rom. 3:25; Heb. 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).

THE IRONY OF THE CROSS

The irony of all this is that something as ugly as the cross--something revolting enough to cause people to reject the best Man who ever lived--is actually our only hope of rescue from our spiritual helplessness. That's what the Bible says. And that's what Christ confirmed when He rose triumphantly from the dead. The cross was not a mistake. It wasn't a good life falling on bad times. The irony of the cross is that (1) it is the greatest example of God's love, and that (2) in dying, Christ also showed us how to live. The first point of irony is this:

Christ's Death Demonstrated God's Love
The great truth of the most familiar and best-loved verse of the Bible is that the cross was evidence of God's love.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

A parallel passage reads, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us" (1 John 3:16).

Some people look for God's love in nature. But they won't find it guaranteed there, because the message of the created world gives conflicting messages. Sometimes it seems to tell us that God is wonderfully loving. The warm sunshine, the gentle rain, the blooming flowers of the fields, and the watchful care of a cow for her calf all seem to say, "God is love."

At other times, however, the message of nature is quite the opposite. Sun and drought make the ground hard and unproductive. A killer tornado may roar out of a darkened sky without warning. A nest of young rabbits may be killed by a nightstalking cat or foraging jackal. Or an erupting volcano may wipe out entire villages, killing hundreds and making thousands homeless. No, the love of God cannot always be seen in nature.

Nor is God's love clearly evident in history. A family of immigrants to the United States from Vietnam or Korea may say that coming to the USA proved to them that God loves them. But if you talk to the young mother of three children whose husband was just killed by airplane hijackers, she may scoff bitterly at the idea that a loving God controls all events. Many of the Jewish people who lived through the horrors of Auschwitz or Dachau would also reject the idea that God's love is demonstrated in history.

When Christians talk about God's love being made known, therefore, they must point to something else as evidence. According to the Bible, that evidence is the cross. Because Jesus Christ is God's Son, His death was a profound declaration of God's love.

God has shown His love for us--but at great cost. In the person of Jesus Christ, God became a member of the human family. He lived His whole life without sin. Then, though innocent Himself, He died a terrible death to make our salvation possible. Shining through the darkness that surrounded Calvary that fateful day was the wondrous brilliance of the love of God. Think for a moment about what Christ suffered, and remember that it was for us.

Stand in awe as He agonizes before God the Father in Gethsemane until His sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

Follow in horror as He is arrested like a criminal, mutilated by a Roman whip, and tortured, mocked, and derided with a crown of thorns.

Weep for Him as He stumbles under the heavy wooden beam He is forced to carry to His place of execution.

Cringe in revulsion as hardened Roman soldiers pound spikes through His hands, drive nails through His feet, and roughly drop the beam into place.

Listen to Him as He hangs there on the cross, praying for His enemies, talking lovingly to His mother, and promising salvation to the criminal who repents.

Be still as you see the sky grow black at noon, and as you sit through the 3 hours of eerie midday darkness.

Listen to His cry of abandonment, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"

Remember that on the cross, Jesus endured the agony of hell for you and me. God was His Father. He had existed with Him from all eternity in a relationship closer than anything we could ever know. Yet the Father "made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

The second point of irony is:
Christ's Death Showed Us How To Live

Not only did the cross give us the highest evidence of God's love, but it also provided us with a spiritual principle of life. The love that led Jesus Christ to this unparalleled deed of self-sacrifice was an example for us.

We are to love as He loved; to live as He lived. The Lord Jesus had the cross in mind the evening before His crucifixion when He told His disciples, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). Calvary love is to be standard for our love.

Jesus Christ also had His death on the cross in view when He said this:

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me (John 12:24-26).

This is the law of the harvest: A seed must die before it can produce a plant. Jesus Christ was the "seed" that had to die. Yet His death produced spiritual life for all who would trust Him. We are the fruit of His suffering and death.

But the law of death to bring life did not end with Christ's cross. Jesus declared that it also applies to His followers. We must take the way of the cross, the way of dying to our own selfish desires, if we are to bear the kind of fruit that God created us to produce (Eph. 2:8-10).

The apostle Paul saw this principle in Christ's death. Time and again he spoke of being crucified with Christ, of dying to self, and of walking the Calvary road. With deep conviction he wrote, "But God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).

Because the cross of Christ was Paul's inspiration and confidence, he could write off the world-system as something useless and dead. He saw nothing in it to attract him.

When we live by the law of the harvest, we will be fruitful in our service for Christ. Following His example, we must first die to self. As we do, we will be able to say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

Here again is the irony of the cross. Not only does it bring God's life to us, but it brings our life to God.

THE BACKGROUND OF THE CROSS

We are fortunate to be able to look back to the cross and see it in perspective. The first disciples of Christ were not so privileged. For them the crucifixion came as a terrible, heart-rending tragedy. Their beloved Leader was dead. Their hopes of a messianic kingdom had evaporated. Their enemies were cheering. They were stunned by the unexpected twist of events. Only later, when Christ surprised them with His resurrected presence, did the disciples begin to understand that the Old Testament pointed to a cross as well as to a kingdom. Only then did they begin to see that Christ had to fulfill the picture of a suffering Servant before He could return as the promised King.

The resurrected Jesus explained to His astonished followers how the cross was part of the plan of God. First, He showed them His wounds. Then He said, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44). He opened their minds to the Old Testament pictures and prophecies about His death (v.45). Let's leaf through the Old Testament for examples of each.

Old Testament Prophecies of Christ's Death

    Genesis 3:15--The Seed of woman "bruised"
    Psalm 16:10--Christ not left in the grave
    Psalm 22:1--The cry of forsakenness
    Psalm 22:6-8--The Messiah mocked
    Psalm 22:15--Christ's thirst
    Psalm 22:16--Pierced hands and feet
    Psalm 22:17--The stares of His enemies
    Psalm 22:18--Gambling for His garments
    Psalm 69:21--Vinegar offered to Christ
    Isaiah 49:7--God's Servant despised
    Isaiah 50:6--Messiah physically abused
    Isaiah 52:14--His face disfigured
    Isaiah 53:5--Pierced for our sins
    Isaiah 53:7--Silent before His accusers
    Isaiah 53:9--His grave among the rich
    Isaiah 53:12--Identified with criminals
    Daniel 9:26--God's anointed One "cut off"
    Zechariah 12:10--Messiah "pierced" by Israel
    Zechariah 13:7--The Shepherd struck down

Old Testament Pictures of Christ's Death
The imagery of the cross appears in three Old Testament pictures.

SACRIFICES--The substitutionary death of Christ is most often pictured in the Old Testament by the sacrificial system. The provision of animal skins for Adam and Eve is seen by many Bible scholars as God's initiative to provide for man's sin by means of sacrifice (Gen. 3:21). The Passover sacrifice is a primary image of deliverance through the shed blood of a lamb (Ex. 12; Lev. 23; 1 Cor. 5:7; 1 Pet. 1:19). John the Baptist connected the animal sacrifice and Jesus Christ when he cried, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). An extensive explanation is given in Hebrews 9:11- 10:18.

THE BRONZE SERPENT--Israel was afflicted with the bites of serpents because of their disobedience. At God's instruction, a serpent was made out of bronze and placed atop a pole in the center of the camp. All who looked at it were healed of their snakebites (Num. 21:4-9).

Christ would be "lifted up" and all who looked on Him in faith would experience spiritual healing (John 3:14,15).

JONAH--Jesus taught that the experience of Jonah in the belly of the great fish for 3 days and 3 nights was a picture of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:39-41).

By prophecies and pictures, therefore, the Old Testament looked forward to the death of Christ. His crucifixion was not an unforeseen detour in the plan of God. Rather, it was the reason that He came.

THE WORDS OF THE CROSS

Even in dying, Christ was teaching us how to live. The seven recorded statements from the cross give us seven profound lessons on life.

1. "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is better than revenge.

2. "Assuredly, I saw to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43). Faith is rewarded with promise.

3. "Woman, behold your Son! . . . Behold your mother!" (John 19:26,27). Our own needs should not overshadow the needs of others.

4. "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mark 15:34). Anything that could jeopardize our relationship with God should produce anguish.

5. "I thirst" (John 19:28). These words, spoken to fulfill prophecy, remind us of the authority of Scripture.

6. "It is finished" (John 19:30). Do not let yourself lose sight of your goal of doing God's will.

7. "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit" (Luke 23:46). In your suffering, entrust yourself to God.

THE INDICTMENT OF THE CROSS

In the Bible are astonishing words that will testify forever to the wickedness of man. Describing the execution of Jesus Christ, the gospel writers used the statement, "They crucified Him." Never before had One so innocent endured such an outpouring of human scorn and contempt. The whole process was a terrifying revelation of human sin.

First, there was the jealous hatred of the religious leaders of Israel. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes joined forces to discredit Jesus (Matt. 22:15-46). They resented His popularity (Matt. 21:45,46; John 12:19). They said His miracles were works of Satan (Matt. 12:22-30). They were appalled at His acceptance of ordinary people (Luke 15:1,2). They hated His exposure of their hypocrisy (Matt. 15:1-14). Although they were looked up to as the spiritual leaders of Israel, they falsely accused, illegally tried, condemned, and crucified the One sent from God (Matt. 26,27).

Second, there was the greedy betrayal by Judas. As one of the disciples, he shared in the life and ministry of Jesus. The teachings, the miracles, the very heart and soul of the Savior were his to experience. But in the end, Judas chose to betray Him. As treasurer of the Twelve, he often stole from the common purse (John 12:6). It is therefore no surprise that he would sell his own soul, and the Savior, for 30 pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16).

Third, there was the cunning cowardice of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Palestine appointed by Caesar. He was hated by the Jewish leaders. He knew they were manipulating him into killing Jesus, and he resisted it. All of his counter moves failed. Although he publicly proclaimed Christ's innocence, he did not set Him free. Giving in to pressure, he ordered the crucifixion of Christ.

Fourth, there is the fickle desire of the crowd. A few days earlier, the masses had cried, "Hosanna to the son of David," as Christ entered Jerusalem. But now they clamored for His death, shouting, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!"

Fifth, there was the heartless cruelty of the Roman soldiers. They stripped Him and beat Him. They mocked Him. They spit on Him. They twisted a crown of thorns onto His head. They led Him away, bruised and bleeding, and crucified Him. What monstrous behavior!

Now, it would be easy for us to condemn these people. But let's be honest. Those wicked deeds against the innocent Son of God represent the truth about all of us. They are an indictment of our own sin.

THE CALL OF THE CROSS

Look again at the cross. Look at the One dying there. He never sinned, yet He is on the cross to bear the penalty for the sins of the whole world. He's dying there on your behalf. That should be you on that cross.

It's an ugly scene, isn't it? It shows us how terrible sin really is, and what a horrible price had to be paid to set us free from it. If you are a Christian, coming one more time to the cross should fill your heart with gratitude for what Christ did for you there. As your sacrifice and substitute, He made it possible for you to be forgiven and to be saved from your sin. Why don't you give Him your thanks right now? Then determine to walk in obedience to God.

If you are not a Christian, won't you trust Him as your Savior? Your sin is real. You cannot do anything at all about it--except to trust in Jesus Christ. Don't wait. Tell Him that you believe in Him as your personal Savior. Ask Him to save you. He will, because it was for you that He died on that excruciating cross. He was your sacrifice. He paid the penalty for your sin. Trust Him now!

THE SATISFACTION OF THE CROSS
by Darlene Lehman as told to Judith Fabisch

If there was ever a time I didn't want to be accepted by God, I don't remember it. Our home was religious. Grandmother never had to force me to go to church on Sunday or Holy Days. After school, I often stopped at the cool, dimly lit cathedral near our house and knelt in one of the empty pews. It was a devotion of agony. I wanted God's forgiveness so badly, but He always seemed so very far away.

When I was about 10, the bishop visited our cathedral. While he was there, he blessed some holy water. Grandmother sent me to get a bottle of it to put in the small vials scattered around our home. I ran all the way to the cathedral, but I walked home much more slowly. I was thinking hard. I wanted so much to be accepted by God. Impulsively, I drank the holy water! Grandmother could not be angry with me, for she understood the guilt and desire that can be in a young girl's heart. But still I was not satisfied.

High school did not remove the thirst that was in my soul, but I was soon occupied with studies, friends, and dating. Within a year of graduation I met and married Dick. It wasn't long before I was settled into the routine of establishing a home and family.

Although I loved my husband and my home, I longed more than ever for spiritual peace. I increased my acts of devotion to my church, attending faithfully and doing extra things to try to meet God's approval. But I still came away empty. I even went to an evangelistic meeting downtown. But I didn't understand what was being said, so I walked away frustrated. I was ready to do anything to please God.

I begged God. I cried out to Him. I pleaded with Him to reveal Himself to me. And the answer finally came from an unexpected place--through my mother-in-law. A sense of peace surrounded her, and she was always very kind. So when she asked me to attend a Christian women's club meeting with her, I was glad to go. A missionary was speaking. In clear, loving, unmistakable terms, she brought us to the cross. I understood for the first time the meaning of Christ's death-- praise God! I realized that I should have come here--to the cross--a long time ago. I knew that the thirst of my soul would be satisfied here. I accepted the love and forgiveness of God. With tears of joy, I trusted Christ and His sacrifice for me.

The years have not been easy since. In time I left my church because of the emptiness of its ritual. I grew rapidly in Christ and in my commitment to Him. Dick didn't understand, and eventually he left me. But the Lord has sustained me and the children throughout the years.

The peace and satisfaction I found at the cross has been real--far greater than could ever be found in a bottle of holy water. The forgiveness of sins and acceptance by a holy God can be found only at the cross.

 

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The Passion Of Christ

cover

Chapters Include:
Introduction
When Darkness Reigned
Christ’s Struggle In The Darkness
Satan In The Darkness
Christ’s Disciples In The Darkness
Christ’s Enemies In The Darkness
Pushing Back The Darkness
Who Killed Christ?

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